War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book III: Chapters 1–5


Old Prince Nicholas Bolkonski received a letter from Prince Vasili in November, 1805, announcing that he and his son would be paying him a visit."I am starting on a journey of inspection, and of course I shall think nothing of an extra seventy miles to come and see you at the same time, my honored benefactor," wrote Prince Vasili."My son Anatole is accompanying me on his way to the army, so I hope you will allow him personally to express the deep respect that, emulating his father, he feels for you."

"It seems that there will be no need to bring Mary out, suitors are coming to us of their own accord," incautiously remarked the little princess on hearing the news.

Prince Nicholas frowned, but said nothing.

A fortnight after the letter Prince Vasili's servants came one evening in advance of him, and he and his son arrived next day.

Old Bolkonski had always had a poor opinion of Prince Vasili's character, but more so recently, since in the new reigns of Paul and Alexander Prince Vasili had risen to high position and honors. And now, from the hints contained in his letter and given by the little princess, he saw which way the wind was blowing, and his low opinion changed into a feeling of contemptuous ill will. He snorted whenever he mentioned him. On the day of Prince Vasili's arrival, Prince Bolkonski was particularly discontented and out of temper. Whether he was in a bad temper because Prince Vasili was coming, or whether his being in a bad temper made him specially annoyed at Prince Vasili's visit, he was in a bad temper, and in the morning Tikhon had already advised the architect not to go to the prince with his report.

"Do you hear how he's walking?" said Tikhon, drawing the architect's attention to the sound of the prince's footsteps."Stepping flat on his heels — we know what that means . . . ."

However, at nine o'clock the prince, in his velvet coat with a sable collar and cap, went out for his usual walk. It had snowed the day before and the path to the hothouse, along which the prince was in the habit of walking, had been swept: the marks of the broom were still visible in the snow and a shovel had been left sticking in one of the soft snowbanks that bordered both sides of the path. The prince went through the conservatories, the serfs' quarters, and the outbuildings, frowning and silent.

"Can a sleigh pass?" he asked his overseer, a venerable man, resembling his master in manners and looks, who was accompanying him back to the house.

"The snow is deep. I am having the avenue swept, your honor."

The prince bowed his head and went up to the porch."God be thanked," thought the overseer,"the storm has blown over!"

"It would have been hard to drive up, your honor," he added."I heard, your honor, that a minister is coming to visit your honor."

The prince turned round to the overseer and fixed his eyes on him, frowning.

"What? A minister? What minister? Who gave orders?" he said in his shrill, harsh voice."The road is not swept for the princess my daughter, but for a minister! For me, there are no ministers!"

"Your honor, I thought . . ."

"You thought!" shouted the prince, his words coming more and more rapidly and indistinctly."You thought! . . . Rascals! Blackgaurds! . . . I'll teach you to think!" and lifting his stick he swung it and would have hit Alpatych, the overseer, had not the latter instinctively avoided the blow."Thought . . . Blackguards . . ." shouted the prince rapidly.

But although Alpatych, frightened at his own temerity in avoiding the stroke, came up to the prince, bowing his bald head resignedly before him, or perhaps for that very reason, the prince, though he continued to shout:"Blackgaurds! . . . Throw the snow back on the road!" did not lift his stick again but hurried into the house.

Before dinner, Princess Mary and Mademoiselle Bourienne, who knew that the prince was in a bad humor, stood awaiting him; Mademoiselle Bourienne with a radiant face that said:"I know nothing, I am the same as usual," and Princess Mary pale, frightened, and with downcast eyes. What she found hardest to bear was to know that on such occasions she ought to behave like Mademoiselle Bourienne, but could not. She thought:"If I seem not to notice he will think that I do not sympathize with him; if I seem sad and out of spirits myself, he will say (as he has done before) that I'm in the dumps."

The prince looked at his daughter's frightened face and snorted.

"Fool . . . or dummy!" he muttered.

"And the other one is not here. They've been telling tales," he thought — referring to the little princess who was not in the dining room.

"Where is the princess?" he asked."Hiding?"

"She is not very well," answered Mademoiselle Bourienne with a bright smile,"so she won't come down. It is natural in her state."

"Hm! Hm!" muttered the prince, sitting down.

His plate seemed to him not quite clean, and pointing to a spot he flung it away. Tikhon caught it and handed it to a footman. The little princess was not unwell, but had such an overpowering fear of the prince that, hearing he was in a bad humor, she had decided not to appear.

"I am afraid for the baby," she said to Mademoiselle Bourienne:"Heaven knows what a fright might do."

In general at Bald Hills the little princess lived in constant fear, and with a sense of antipathy to the old prince which she did not realize because the fear was so much the stronger feeling. The prince reciprocated this antipathy, but it was overpowered by his contempt for her. When the little princess had grown accustomed to life at Bald Hills, she took a special fancy to Mademoiselle Bourienne, spent whole days with her, asked her to sleep in her room, and often talked with her about the old prince and criticized him.

"So we are to have visitors, mon prince?" remarked Mademoiselle Bourienne, unfolding her white napkin with her rosy fingers."His Excellency Prince Vasili Kuragin and his son, I understand?" she said inquiringly.

"Hm! — his excellency is a puppy . . . . I got him his appointment in the service," said the prince disdainfully."Why his son is coming I don't understand. Perhaps Princess Elizabeth and Princess Mary know. I don't want him." (He looked at his blushing daughter.)"Are you unwell today? Eh? Afraid of the 'minister' as that idiot Alpatych called him this morning?"

"No, mon pere."

Though Mademoiselle Bourienne had been so unsuccessful in her choice of a subject, she did not stop talking, but chattered about the conservatories and the beauty of a flower that had just opened, and after the soup the prince became more genial.

After dinner, he went to see his daughter-in-law. The little princess was sitting at a small table, chattering with Masha, her maid. She grew pale on seeing her father-in-law.

She was much altered. She was now plain rather than pretty. Her cheeks had sunk, her lip was drawn up, and her eyes drawn down.

"Yes, I feel a kind of oppression," she said in reply to the prince's question as to how she felt.

"Do you want anything?"

"No, merci, mon pere."

"Well, all right, all right."

He left the room and went to the waiting room where Alpatych stood with bowed head.

"Has the snow been shoveled back?"

"Yes, your excellency. Forgive me for heaven's sake . . . It was only my stupidity."

"All right, all right," interrupted the prince, and laughing his unnatural way, he stretched out his hand for Alpatych to kiss, and then proceeded to his study.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

After leaving his wife, what does Pierre do that gives him new hope?